Acidic oceans arrive early

Scientists have found ‘corrosive water’ off the coast of North America, a result of carbon dioxide being absorbed from the atmosphere. This is reputedly the first time acidified ocean water has been detected on the continental shelf of the western United States and – surprise, surprise – it’s that climate change that’s causing it.
“Acidification of the Earth’s ocean water could have far-reaching impacts on the health of our near-shore environment, and on the sustainability of ecosystems that support human populations through nourishment and jobs,” says Richard Spinrad, assistant administrator for oceanic and atmospheric research at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In Science oceanographers report the first in what is planned to be a biennial sequence of observations and studies of carbon along the west coast of North America. “Our results show for the first time that a large section of the North American continental shelf is impacted by ocean acidification,” says the paper.

More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means more carbon dioxide gets absorbed into the oceans. This doesn’t mean our boats will all start corroding, but it’s not good news for sea beasties. More acidic waters put the kybosh on animals that use calcium carbonate to make exoskeletons and shells and they mess up algae and plants (National Geographic).

“We did not expect to see this extent of ocean acidification until the middle to the end of the century,” says paper author Christopher Sabine, of NOAA.

And that’s not the worst of it.

The water this paper measured is welling up from the depths. It last saw the sky 50 years ago.

“We’ve got 50 years worth of water that’s already left the station and is on its way to us. Each one of those years is going to be a little bit more corrosive than the one before,” says another author, Burke Hales of Oregon State University (Seattle Times).

“This is a startling result,” Edward Miles, of the University of Washington, told the Seattle Post Intelligencer. “It means the global community needs to pay much more attention to documenting what is going on in the global coastal ocean as well.”

The PI also notes:

Sen. Maria Cantwell will host a field hearing Tuesday in Seattle on the effects of climate change and ocean acidification on this region. Last year, she sponsored a bill to create a national program researching and monitoring acidification.

The Great Beyond, 23 May 2008. Article.

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